That’s Motherhood

The baby woke me minutes before the alarm went off this morning. The noise that escaped my lips was half exhaustion, half anger. I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep as the kids took turns keeping me up. I rarely get enough sleep. That’s motherhood, I guess.

I started to feed the baby and Z came in, announcing the dogs had pooped all over her playroom. I muttered a soft “dammit” and told the husband who’d let out his own string of expletives not to worry, I’d clean it up. He had to get ready for work and has a weak stomach when it comes to smells anyway.

The smell permeated the hall and I smothered a gag – it wasn’t the worst smell I’d ever smelled and there was a good chance it wouldn’t even be the worst of the day. Zoey walked past me, singing “dammit, dammit, dammit!” I closed my eyes briefly, admonishing myself for having said it aloud earlier and then asked her not to say that word as I scrubbed at the floor. That’s motherhood, I guess.

The next hour was spent making a grocery list, getting breakfast for everyone but myself, dressing two kids, chugging cold coffee, throwing on some concealer and lipstick so I didn’t look as dead as I felt, and struggling to shake the dark mood that was quickly settling heavily over me. When Z spilled apple juice all over the car and herself (including the brand new clothes she was wearing), I felt molten hot rage course through me, and I thought, “Sometimes, I hate motherhood.” She looked at me, sorry filling her sweet, blue eyes. “The lid wasn’t on very well, mom. I’m sorry.” Guilt and shame and love immediately washed away all of my ire.

Somehow I managed to get all of us in the car and on our way. The three of us sort of matched in our hob-knob assortment of stripes and strawberries, so I asked a woman working the desk at Z’s school to take a photo of us. She handed back my phone and I grimaced at the image of myself. I’m still twenty pounds heavier than I’d like to be and much of the time feel I look tired and old. Z asked to see it and squealed over how cute we looked. I promised myself that I’d show it off for her sake.

After I dropped her off, I stopped at the store, cursing myself for not thinking ahead, in a hurry before my doctor appointment. I hitched the diaper bag over my shoulder and the million pound car seat on my arm and rushed into the store, prepared for a quick trip in and out. A woman stopped me as I walked in.

“What a strong, beautiful mother!” She exclaimed.

I thanked her, but doubt must have been etched on my face because then she said, “Truly. Strong and beautiful.”

I wanted to stop and cry and hug her and tell her that she had no idea how much I needed to hear that, that it had been an awful, ordinary morning, that I spent most of my time tired and overwhelmed, that I doubted my abilities as a mother, that I worried my daughter would stop loving me because I couldn’t quit snapping at her, but I was in a rush. So instead, I smiled at her – a great, sincere smile, thanked her again, and walked into the store, feeling a little bit lighter than I had a few moments before.

And that’s motherhood, I guess.



For the longest time, I wasn’t sure I wanted a second baby. Whenever people asked, I’d say what I knew they wanted to hear:

Of course! We’re just waiting until the chemo leaves his system.

Oh yes, Z needs a sibling. We don’t want her to be an only child! 

Definitely. But we’ll only have two – three tops.

But secretly, I wasn’t sure I meant it. I remembered the nausea and fatigue that comes with pregnancy and imagined feeling that way while caring for my terribly awesome toddler and a (possibly) ill husband. I worried I might resent another child for taking away what little me time I have. I thought about my anxiety and how much I fret over the state of one baby, fearful I might not survive the stress of two.

I’m tired. Exhausted. Bone-weary. I can’t remember the last time I felt truly rested, peaceful, contented. I know I’m not the only mother that feels this way, but sometimes I feel so alone. I feel guilty for wanting time to write or read or rest. I feel guilty when I ask other people to help me because I feel like I’m supposed to do it all myself. I feel guilty and anxious and tired constantly, and I just don’t know how I would care for two little ones when it’s a struggle to care for myself.

But then I watch my daughter’s face light up when I pick her up from school or I hear a raspy little, “thank you, Mommy” when I hand her something she asked for, and my heart skips a beat and I feel it. I feel the pull of another child, of another sweet face, another silly soul to steal a piece of my heart and make me a mommy all over. And I’m almost there – I’m almost ready for another baby.

When I asked the doctor last week about trying for a baby this summer (a full six months since the last chemo treatment), I fully expected him to say that we were ready to go. I wasn’t ready for the hesitation. I wasn’t ready for him to ask how I feel about abortion. I wasn’t ready for him to tell me they don’t recommend people get pregnant on any cancer medications. I wasn’t ready for the pity I saw in his eyes.

Until that moment, I didn’t know that I was ready for a baby.

He saw the pain in my eyes, the tightness in my mouth and he told me he’d look for more answers, he reassured me he’d know more the next week, at the next visit. He shook our hands and said the usual goodbyes and he left the room. My husband had been on the phone with the pharmacy for most of our conversation and we’d waited two and a half hours to see the doctor, so he was more than ready to go. He held open the door, smiled, and motioned me out. His face fell when he saw the tears welling in my eyes and I told him to close the door.

Then I sat in the hard, little chair and I cried. I cried for the baby I didn’t know I wanted, for the baby I might not be able to have. I cried for my only child and my sick husband and myself. I cried because it wasn’t fair and I didn’t understand. I gave myself five minutes to fall apart, then I let my husband hug me, I pulled myself back together, and we left.

On the way home, we discussed our options – adoption, In Vitro, playing the odds. None of them made me feel any better. I felt a void. I didn’t know I wanted another baby until the doctor told me it might not be an option.

I know we might still have more kids, that the doctor could come back on Tuesday and tell us he was wrong, that the odds aren’t stacked against us. I know this period of mourning might be premature. I know God gave us our little girl early, before cancer, for this very reason. But knowing those things  doesn’t fill the space I didn’t know was there – the quiet space a second baby was waiting to fill.

I may not have the option to fill the space with another child, but I know that if I leave it empty, it will poison me. So, instead, I’ll have to fill it with something else, with someone else, someone like the daughter I’m lucky enough to have. Maybe by filling the space with her, I won’t feel like something’s missing. Maybe I won’t even notice. Maybe I’ll be okay. Because even though I know now that I want another baby, the baby I have – she’s enough.

NOTE: This piece ran on The Huffington Post.